In rare disclosure, IDF sets out its strategy, admits flawed response to Hamas, Hezbollah
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In rare disclosure, IDF sets out its strategy, admits flawed response to Hamas, Hezbollah

Responding to calls for transparency, chief of staff publishes document showing changes in IDF worldview, operating procedures

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot visiting an Armored Division exercise on July 23, 2015. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit/FLASH90)
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot visiting an Armored Division exercise on July 23, 2015. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit/FLASH90)

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot on Thursday released the so-called “IDF Strategy,” an unclassified document that sets out the army’s overall goals and methods to achieve them.

Among the imperatives: safeguarding Israel’s international status, correcting an inadequate response to terror groups, and fending off cyber attacks.

The release of the approximately 30-page document is virtually unprecedented, although certain elements of the IDF’s strategy have — unsurprisingly — still been kept top secret. It appears to serve as a response to the demands the Israeli people and government have made of the IDF over the past ten years for greater transparency.

The IDF’s wastefulness, previous unpreparedness for cyber warfare, logistical failings in the Second Lebanon War and once-antiquated tactics are all referenced obliquely in the document, not in the forms of problems to solve but as plans for future change.

Cadets in the IDF Cyber Defense Unit course, June 10, 2013 (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Cadets in the IDF Cyber Defense Unit course, June 10, 2013 (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

The need for efficiency and logistical support, a recognition of the current threats facing Israel and a newly added fourth front — land, sea and air are joined by cyber — are all mentioned in the strategy guide in response to those claims.

The document begins by laying out its ambitions — securing the existence of the State of Israel, keeping its values as a Jewish and democratic home for the Jewish people, safeguarding a robust society and economy, and strengthening Israel’s status in the world.

It then delves into the threats to those goals not only from countries such as Iran, Lebanon, and an imploding Syria, but also from non-state groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Islamic State.

Until now, the document itself states, the IDF has prepared itself for full-scale wars — armies against armies and nations against nations — while the response to stateless terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah was never adequately addressed by formal IDF policy.

One of the harsher criticisms of the IDF in recent years has indeed been a slow response to shifting threats.

Islamic Jihad forces training in a tunnel in the southern Gaza Strip on March 3, 2015. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)
Islamic Jihad forces training in a tunnel in the southern Gaza Strip on March 3, 2015. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

This new strategy strives to address that concern by better understanding the difficulties of fighting an enemy that fights by “spreading out and assimilation into the civilian populated areas to impede the IDF’s fighting ability.”

The strategy also warns against the threat of kidnap, cyber attacks, international legal battles and other non-conventional forms of warfare against which the IDF will prepare itself.

In light of recent budgetary pressure on the IDF, the topic of efficiency and resource management is discussed throughout the document.

The three necessary components of the IDF’s power, according to the document, are a “fighting spirit,” “the quality of its commanders’ decisions” and its “execution of missions completely, quickly and with minimal resources.”

The IDF must maintain its status as a technologically advanced military, the document recommends, but encourages doing so “from pre-existing products on our shelf.”

Eisenkot also emphasized the need for increasing the effectiveness of rapid and overwhelming land maneuvers, diversifying the IDF’s operational capabilities between wars, strengthening its cyber capabilities and preserving a clear edge in nautical and aerial capabilities and in intelligence.

Most of the recommendations in the document had already come into effect within the army, their presence in the 33-page strategy served to solidify them as official army doctrine and to provide Israeli citizens with a quick glimpse into the changes the IDF has made in recent years.

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